Beason v. I. E. Miller Servs., Inc.

Decision Date23 April 2019
Docket NumberNo. 114,301,114,301
Citation441 P.3d 1107
Parties James Todd BEASON and Dara Beason, Plaintiffs/Appellants/Counter-Appellees, v. I. E. MILLER SERVICES, INC., Defendant/Appellee/Counter-Appellant.
CourtOklahoma Supreme Court

Ed Abel, Lynn B. Mares, Kelly S. Bishop, and T. Luke Abel, Abel Law Firm, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Valerie M. Nannery, pro hac vice, and Robert S. Peck, pro hac vice, Center for Constitutional Litigation, P.C., Washington, D.C., for James Todd Beason and Dara Beason, Plaintiffs/Appellants/Counter-Appellees.

Robert Todd Goolsby, Perry E. Kaufman, and Megan C. Lee, Goolsby, Proctor, Heefner and Gibbs, P.C., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for I. E. Miller Services, Inc., Defendant/Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

Mithun Mansinghani, Solicitor General, and Sarah A. Greenwalt, Assistant Solicitor General, Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for the State of Oklahoma.

Amy Sherry Fischer, Foliart Huff Ottaway & Bottom, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Mark Alan Behrens, pro hac vice, Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P., Washington, D.C., for Amici Curiae, American Tort Reform Association, NFIB Small Business Legal Center, and Coalition for Litigation Justice, Inc.

Rex Travis and Paul Kouri, Travis Law Office, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Simone Gosnell Fulmer, Fulmer Group PLLC, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Amicus Curiae, Oklahoma Association for Justice.

Erin A. Renegar and Carline J. Lewis, Wiggins, Sewell & Ogletree, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Amicus Curiae, Oklahoma Association of Defense Counsel.

V. Glenn Coffee and Denise K. Lawson, Glenn Coffee & Associates, PLLC, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Amici Curiae, Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc., and Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America.

REIF, J.

¶ 1 At issue is the constitutionality of a legislative enactment23 O.S. 2011 § 61.2 —that statutorily limits a plaintiff's recovery of noneconomic damages to $350,000 unless special findings are made. In this case, the trial court significantly reduced the jury's award based on its application of 23 O.S. 2011 § 61.2(B)(F). We conclude that the challenged statutory provision—the cap on actual noneconomic damages—is wrought with an irremediable constitutional infirmity: It is a special law categorically prohibited by Article 5, Section 46 of the Oklahoma Constitution. We hold that 23 O.S. 2011 § 61.2(B)(F) is unconstitutional in its entirety, and we reverse the trial court's judgment to the extent it modified—and reduced—the jury's verdict in favor of the plaintiffs.

I.

¶ 2 The facts underlying this controversy may be briefly stated. A boom from a crane fell and hit Todd Beason. The crane was operated by an employee of the defendant, I. E. Miller Services, Inc. The employee was attempting to move an 82,000-pound mud pump without the assistance of another crane or vehicle. As a result of his injury, Beason underwent two amputations on parts of his arm.

¶ 3 Beason and his wife, Dara Beason, brought an action against the defendant. The matter went to trial in Oklahoma County. The jury awarded $14,000,000 to Todd Beason and $1,000,000 to Dara Beason. The jurors then signed a "supplemental verdict form" allocating $5,000,000 of the $14,000,000 awarded to Todd Beason as actual noneconomic damages. The trial judge determined that all of Dara Beason's damages were noneconomic in nature.

¶ 4 The full text of 23 O.S. 2011 § 61.2 provides:

A. In any civil action arising from a claimed bodily injury, the amount of compensation which the trier of fact may award a plaintiff for economic loss shall not be subject to any limitation.
B. Except as provided in subsection C of this section, in any civil action arising from a claimed bodily injury, the amount of compensation which a trier of fact may award a plaintiff for noneconomic loss shall not exceed Three Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($350,000.00), regardless of the number of parties against whom the action is brought or the number of actions brought.
C. Notwithstanding subsection B of this section, there shall be no limit on the amount of noneconomic damages which the trier of fact may award the plaintiff in a civil action arising from a claimed bodily injury resulting from negligence if the judge and jury finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant's acts or failures to act were:
1. In reckless disregard for the rights of others;
2. Grossly negligent;
3. Fraudulent; or
4. Intentional or with malice.
D. In the trial of a civil action arising from claimed bodily injury, if the verdict is for the plaintiff, the court, in a nonjury trial, shall make findings of fact, and the jury, in a trial by jury, shall return a general verdict accompanied by answers to interrogatories, which shall specify all of the following:
1. The total compensatory damages recoverable by the plaintiff;
2. That portion of the total compensatory damages representing the plaintiff's economic loss;
3. That portion of the total compensatory damages representing the plaintiff's noneconomic loss; and
4. If alleged, whether the conduct of the defendant was or amounted to:
a. reckless disregard for the rights of others,
b. gross negligence,
c. fraud, or
d. intentional or malicious conduct.
E. In any civil action to recover damages arising from claimed bodily injury, after the trier of fact makes the findings required by subsection D of this section, the court shall enter judgment in favor of the plaintiff for economic damages in the amount determined pursuant to paragraph 2 of subsection D of this section, and subject to paragraph 4 of subsection D of this section, the court shall enter a judgment in favor of the plaintiff for noneconomic damages. Except as provided in subsection C of this section, in no event shall a judgment for noneconomic damages exceed the maximum recoverable amounts set forth in subsection B of this section. Subsection B of this section shall be applied in a jury trial only after the trier of fact has made its factual findings and determinations as to the amount of the plaintiff's damages.
F. In any civil action arising from claimed bodily injury which is tried to a jury, the jury shall not be instructed with respect to the limit on noneconomic damages set forth in subsection B of this section, nor shall counsel for any party nor any witness inform the jury or potential jurors of such limitations.
G. This section shall not apply to actions brought under The Governmental Tort Claims Act or actions for wrongful death.
H. As used in this section:
1. "Bodily injury" means actual physical injury to the body of a person and sickness or disease resulting therefrom;
2. "Economic damages" means any type of pecuniary harm including, but not limited to:
a. all wages, salaries or other compensation lost as a result of a bodily injury that is the subject of a civil action,
b. all costs incurred for medical care or treatment, rehabilitation services, or other care, treatment, services, products or accommodations as a result of a bodily injury that is the subject of a civil action, or
c. any other costs incurred as a result of a bodily injury that is the subject of a civil action;
3. "Fraudulent" or "fraud" means "actual fraud" as defined pursuant to Section 58 of Title 15 of the Oklahoma Statutes ;
4. "Gross negligence" means the want of slight care and diligence;
5. "Malice" involves hatred, spite or ill will, or the doing of a wrongful act intentionally without just cause or excuse;
6. "Noneconomic damages" means nonpecuniary harm that arises from a bodily injury that is the subject of a civil action, including damages for pain and suffering, loss of society, consortium, companionship, care, assistance, attention, protection, advice, guidance, counsel, instruction, training, education, disfigurement, mental anguish and any other intangible loss; and
7. "Reckless disregard of another's rights" shall have the same meaning as willful and wanton conduct and shall mean that the defendant was either aware, or did not care, that there was a substantial and unnecessary risk that his, her or its conduct would cause serious injury to others. In order for the conduct to be in reckless disregard of another's rights, it must have been unreasonable under the circumstances and there must have been a high probability that the conduct would cause serious harm to another person.
I. This section shall apply to civil actions filed on or after November 1, 2011.

Applying the provisions of 23 O.S. 2011 § 61.2(B)(F), the district court reduced the verdict to $9,700,000. That is, the jury's total award of $6,000,000 in noneconomic damages to the Beasons was lowered to $700,000 (or $350,000 per person) in accordance with the statute's cap on damages.

¶ 5 The Beasons filed a motion to conform the judgment to the jury's verdict and the evidence, and reiterated their pretrial argument that 23 O.S. 2011 § 61.2 was unconstitutional. The trial court denied the Beasons' motion, rejecting their constitutional challenge to the statute. The Beasons timely appealed the judgment, arguing that 23 O.S. 2011 § 61.2 is unconstitutional because—in the main—the statute is a special law in violation of Article 5, Section 46 of the Oklahoma Constitution.1 The defendant also brought a counter-appeal from the judgment, asserting various trial errors. We retained the appeal.

II.
A.

¶ 6 Article 5, Section 46 of the Oklahoma Constitution provides that the Legislature shall not pass special laws affecting certain subjects. It enacts a "mandatory prohibition against special laws." Zeier v. Zimmer, Inc. , 2006 OK 98, ¶ 7, 152 P.3d 861, 865. A statute is a special law when part of an entire class of similarly affected persons is segregated and targeted for different treatment. Reynolds v. Porter , 1988 OK 88, ¶ 14, 760 P.2d 816, 822. To be sure, "the Legislature has a wide latitude to create statutory classifications, but they must be reasonable." Ponca Iron & Metal, Inc. v. Wilkinson , 2010 OK 75, ¶ 6, 242 P.3d 534, 536 ; see...

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3 cases
  • Ritter v. State
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • September 20, 2022
    ...law when part of an entire class of similarly affected persons is segregated and targeted for different treatment." Beason v. I. E. Miller Services, Inc. , 2019 OK 28, ¶9, 441 P.3d 1107. When a general law like 70 O.S. Supp. 2021 § 1210.191 "can be made applicable, no special law shall be e......
  • Stokes v. United States ex rel. Indian Health Serv. & Chickasaw Nation Med. Ctr.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
    • July 29, 2020
    ...23, § 61.2(B). But shortly thereafter, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that statutory cap unconstitutional. Beason v. I. E. Miller Servs., Inc. , 441 P.3d 1107, 1109 (Okla. 2019). At the Stokes's request, the district court then increased the noneconomic-damages award.2 Citing the limited ......
  • Bridges v. Wal-Mart Stores E., LP
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Oklahoma
    • April 21, 2021
    ...as to the projected future medical expenses of Plaintiff." Order of Oct. 16, 2020 (Doc. No. 81) at 9; see also Beason v. I.E. Miller Servs., Inc., 441 P.3d 1107, 1113 (Okla. 2019) ("[T]itle 12, section 3009.1 of the Oklahoma Statutes] does not apply to future medical expenses not yet incurr......
1 books & journal articles
  • The Damages of Caps in Nebraska
    • United States
    • University of Nebraska - Lincoln Nebraska Law Review No. 99, 2021
    • Invalid date
    ...Neb. 846, 851-52, 620 N.W.2d 339, 345 (2000). [90]Wright, 347 N.E.2d at 741-42. [91]Id. at 743. [92] Beason v. I.E. Miller Servs., Inc., 441 P.3d 1107, 1111-12 (Okla. 2019). [93] Paul W. Kahn, Interpretation and Authority in State Constitutionalism, 106 HARV. L. REV. 1147, 1162-63 (1993). [......

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